Before I begin I'd like to say as far as the city propers go Portland and Atlanta strangely have a lot in common in the looks department. The big differences being that Portland has a waterfront and Atlanta has a much much larger skyline. I've never been there before, but there's nothing bad I can say about Portland.
With that said, I'd first like to counter the claim that the idea that Portland has better public transit than Atlanta. This oft repeated line really has no basis in reality. Not to say Portland has bad public transportation, in fact they do a pretty damn good job with it, but Atlanta is clearly ahead of Portland in this department.
First the stats from 2000:
Carfree Database Results
% of Population that Bikes to work: 1.84%
% of Population that Walks to work: 5.47%
% of Population that uses Public Transportation to go to work: 12.89%
Total percentage that does not drive to work: 20.2%
% of Population that Bikes to work: .33%
% of Population that Walks to work: 3.64%
% of Population that uses Public Transportation to go to work: 15.61%
Total percentage that does not drive to work: 19.58%
On these metrics alone, both cities are essential equal. Both owed to good public transit systems. But as we dig deeper into the stats, this where things start to diverge since getting to work is only one use of public transit.
Percentage of adults who do not own a car in Portland: 14.02%
Percentage of adults who do not own a car in Atlanta: 19.58%
So given that if you do not own a car you are likely using public transit, this means that more people use public transit in Atlanta thus Atlanta's public transit is the better system from the perspective of utilization. Let's step back a moment and examine who this is and what it really means by looking at what methods both cities employ:
4 light rail lines - Daily ridership 127,900 (Average speed of vehicles 19.6 mph
1 Streetcar line - Daily ridership 12,000
81 bus routes - Daily ridership 184,700
Commuter rail - Daily ridership 1,400
Total daily ridership for system: 317,500
4 Subway lines - Daily ridership 258,800 (Average speed of vehicles 55 mph
), top speed of 70 mph
132 Bus lines - Daily ridership 224,700
Total daily ridership for system: 485,200
So despite essentially serving the same population size, both cities having the same population density, and basically the same amount of people who commute by public transit, Atlanta public transit has the following over Portland's public transit:
-A subway that has higher rider capacity and faster speed
-A ridership higher than 100,000
-More connecting bus routes
In short, Atlanta has better public transit than Portland, but Portland is no slouch.
As for the "sprawl" comments by some, what relevance does that have in this discussion? Intown Atlanta, despite what an earlier poster asserted without actually knowing the answer, does not in fact mirror the suburban parts. People act like that Atlanta is just one big cul de sac, which is really odd.